Last Saturday, I was in the presence of an incredible musician on the rise: Alex O’Connor, better known as Rex Orange County. The 21-year-old artist from the UK performed at Radio City Music Hall in NYC to a sold-out crowd of love birds and energized youth, which is fair to say that his material relates to these audiences.
If you haven’t yet dabbled in the world of Rex, picture the vibes of Ed Sheeran, Mike Posner and John Mayer — their energy, musicality and content. Those qualities together bring us Rex, whose songs vary on teenage angst and stress (as he’s very honest about anxieties), but also about finding yourself and rising above doubt. He has made many references to his sweet romance with his girlfriend, Thea (also a singer!). They’ve been linked since 2016! Aw!
His charming personality and musical flair are just a few of the qualities that make him a great performer. He started on time (we love to see it!) with his band supporting him onstage: a saxophone and trumpet for the jazzy bops, alongside bass and drums for the rhythm-y, upbeat tracks. “Loving is Easy” and “10/10” got the crowds to their feet, while the ballads “It Gets Better” and “Always” brought us in the feels — and the crowd welcomed both!
His set list featured not only jams from his latest release Pony, but also from his OG albums: bcos u will never be free and apricot princess. The transitions between songs were intimate, as he either resides at the keyboard for a slow, emotional ballad or grips the mic with Marty McFly-finesse, getting ready to rock. In addition, he included two great covers: “No One” from the famous Alicia Keys (which he’s covered previously on social media) and “New York State of Mind” from the one and only Billy Joel (perfect for the setting!).
Among the screaming fans and happy vibes, he would often express his gratitude between songs, which I appreciate as a music junkie. It’s always amazing to hear an artist show compassion and take a few minutes away from the concert to do so. Not only did he thank the crowd for believing in his music, but he also paid homage to the band behind him, the staff at Radio City and his team that has helped him get to where he is now. Rex allowed the fans see him as a regular, humble guy, versus the famous singer before our eyes onstage.
At one point, before starting “Sunflower,” he talked to the crowd. “I’m so happy to be here, and thank you all for coming and sharing this moment with your friends. I appreciate it all. But, right now, I’m going to kindly ask that you take your phone and put it in your pocket,” which got a sweet applause and laughs from the folks in the room. He continued, “Because, I want the next minute and a half to be just for us: you all, out there, and me, up here. This way, it’s more intimate and special, as opposed to those not at this concert tonight. Let’s go!” In my experience, I’ve only had a few performers say this; most of them don’t care, because they’re hard at work up on stage or they know that posting pics and stories is just the way of the world now, as our phones are constantly at our side. Rex was simply reminding us here that ‘okay, we have our pics and vids. Now, let’s be in the moment and absorb what the music has to offer.’ I have so much respect for this. It should be encouraged by more artists moving forward.
The final song of the set, “It’s Not The Same Anymore,” was my favorite one on the album Pony. It talks about going through a hard time but finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The song can relate to a lot of us, whether we’re students, post-grads, healing from a heartbreak, etc. He reflects on growing up (anxious and stressed) and taking good things for granted, but now realizing that things have turned around. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything and sings with true emotion. By the end of the song, he sees life in a different, more uplifting light, which is a great lesson for us.
After signing off by saying “My name is Rex, and I f**kin’ love you guys!” he exited the stage and there was a brief pause. Some of the stage lights turned off, while others remained, as this is a signal of more to come! I guess the “encore!” cheers were convincing, because he reappeared with a few more songs. So awesome!
To conclude, Rex Orange County was an amazing performer! He encouraged us in the audience to dance, sing and be care-free, but most importantly to be present. Thank you for a great show and I will most definitely see you again!
To hear more from the young man behind these love songs and in-depth ballads, check out the interview with NPR.
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